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An Open City Doc For Every Mood

Tuesday 28 April, 2020

Ahead of Open City Documentary Festival’s tenth edition, they got to thinking about ways they could commemorate and celebrate the nine editions they’ve previously held. 

Delving into their old festival programmes, they’ve created a list of every short, mid or feature-length film that is available to watch online. 

You can access Open City’s archive of 289 non-fiction films here

It’s a gold mine of superb viewing, spanning genres, continents and creative talents. We love a good list, so we’ve selected a group of docs from their diverse programme for every mood...



Three exceptional observational films to transport you from your own four walls into richly complex lives lived far away. 


BARONESA / Juliana Antunes / 2017 / 71mins 

Juliana Antunes’ astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Brazil. 

Antunes spent five years working with her non-professional cast to create a work of rare and surprising intimacy which will transport you to the heart of contemporary life in the favelas. 

Baronsea screened as part of Open City’s 2018 festival programme. 

You can watch Baronesa on dafilms.


I AM THE PEOPLE / Anna Roussillon / 2015 / 111mins

Anna Roussillon’s I Am The People is the charming, funny and fascinating portrait of a family in Egypt’s rural South, far from Cairo’s Tahrir square where, as they can see on the television, an uprising is toppling their president. 

I Am the People screened as part of Open City’s 2015 festival programme, watch the full film on dafilms.


TOTO AND HIS SISTERS / Alexandre Nanău / 2014 / 93mins

Toto and His Sisters is an astonishing family story set in Romania. During their mother’s imprisonment for dealing drugs, ten year old Toto and his teenage sisters try to keep the family together in a world that has long forgotten what the innocence of childhood should be.

Deeply moving observational filmmaking at its best, Toto and His Sisters screened at Bertha DocHouse as part of Open City’s 2015 festival programme and won the Grand Jury Award. 

Watch Toto and His Sisters on Google Play.



Re-drawing the lines between genres, or ignoring them entirely, these three films push the boundaries of the form in the cleverest, most elegant ways.


ACTRESS / Robert Greene / 2014 / 87mins 

Brandy Burre had a recurring role on HBOʼs iconic drama The Wire when she gave up her career and moved to a small town to raise her new family. When she decides to get back into acting, both the foundations of her domestic life and her sense of self prove to be more fragile than she had realised.

Using elements of melodrama and cinema verité, Actress is both a portrait of a dying relationship and an exploration of a complicated woman, performing the role of herself.

Actress screened as part of Open City’s 2015 festival programme, you can watch it on Google Play.


NOTES ON BLINDNESS / Peter Middleton & James Spinney / 2016 / 93mins 

After losing his sight, John Hull knew that if he did not try to understand blindness it would destroy him. In 1983 he began keeping an audio diary. Over three years John recorded over sixteen hours of material to document his perception of the world after losing his sight. 

Filmmakers James Spinney and Peter Middleton used these audio recordings to craft a visceral, immersive and breathtaking exploration of Hull's words.

Notes on Blindness screened as part of Open City’s 2016 festival programme, you can watch it on Google Play

You can watch our recorded Q&A with the directors on our Online Hub.


THOSE WHO FEEL THE FIRE BURNING / Morgan Knibbe / 2014 / 74mins 

A captivating work of ‘poetic realism’ Morgan Knibbe’s documentary offers a different perspective on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. From its opening sequence, Those Who Feel the Fire Burning throws us into a chaotic world as a boat carrying hopeful families plunges into rough waves in the black of the night.  

Weaving together fragments of the journey with the often unwelcoming realities of those that are successful, this up close, frenetic portrait presents the reality of a life lived constantly in limbo. 

Those Who Feel the Fire Burning screened as part Open City’s 2015 festival programme, you can watch it on Google Play.



Three docs to help you engage with the arts while you can’t get to a gallery or performance space.


McCULLIN / Jacqui Morris & David Morris / 2012 / 96mins

Celebrated photographer Don McCullin worked for The Sunday Times from 1966 to 1983, at a time when the newspaper was widely recognised as being at the cutting edge of international investigative photojournalism. 

During that period he covered wars and humanitarian disasters on virtually every continent: from the war in Vietnam and the man-made famine in Biafra to the plight of the homeless in swinging sixties London.

Detailing the life and work of the acclaimed photographer, McCullin shows the truth behind his hard-hitting and controversial images.

McCullin screened as part of Open City’s 2012 festival programme, you can watch it on Google Play.


Saul Leiter could have been lauded as the great pioneer of colour photography, but was never driven by the lure of success. Instead he preferred to drink coffee and photograph in his own way, amassing an archive of beautiful work that is now piled high in his New York apartment. 

A funny, intimate and moving film, In No Great Hurry follows Saul as he deals with the triple burden of clearing an apartment full of memories, becoming world famous in his 80’s and fending off a pesky filmmaker. 

In No Great Hurry screened as part of Open City’s 2013 festival programme, you can watch it on VHX.


MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT / Matthew Akers & Jeff Dupre / 2012 / 106mins 

Seductive, fearless, and outrageous, Marina Abramovic has been redefining what art is for nearly 40 years. Using her own body as a vehicle, pushing herself beyond her limits – and at times risking her life in the process – she creates performances that challenge, shock, and move us.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present follows the artist as she prepares for what may be the most important moment of her life: a major new retrospective of her work, taking place at The Museum of Modern Art. 

Marina Abramovic :The Artist is Present screened as part of Open City’s 2012 festival programme, you can watch it on Google Play



Treat your over-taxed, statistic-ridden, multi-tasking brain to these three beautiful docs that slow down your mind enough to get your faculties tuned up and working sweetly.


SLEEP FURIOUSLY / Gideon Koppel / 2008 / 94mins

Sleep Furiously is set in a small hill-farming community in Trefeurig, mid-Wales, a landscape that's changing rapidly as small-scale agriculture is disappearing and the last generation who inhabited a pre-mechanised world is dying out.

With a score composed by Aphex Twin this is an artistic exploration of the dwindling flame of rural life, a profound journey into a world of endings and beginnings.

Sleep Furiously screened as part of Open City’s 2012 festival programme, you can watch it on Amazon Prime

You can watch DocHouse’s Q&A with director Gideon Koppel - from our 2015 ‘Best of’ collaboration with Open City, on the Online Hub.


MANAKAMANA /  Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez / 2013 / 118mins 

High above a jungle in Nepal, pilgrims make a journey by cable car to worship at the Manakamana Temple.

 The journey takes 10 minutes; sometimes in silence, some times in pleasant conversation.

Put together from a series of un-cut, 10 minute long, single shots, Manakamana - from Harvard’s acclaimed Sensory Ethnography Lab - is a slow (to put it mildly) but ultimately incredibly rewarding window to another world.

Manakamana screened as part of Open City’s 2014 festival programme, you watch it on Google Play.


ABENDLAND / Nikolaus Geyrhalter / 2011 / 91mins

A film poem about a continent at night, Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Abendland is a subtly apocalyptic view of Western lifestyles, consumerism and decadence. 

Abendland screened as part of Open City’s 2012 festival programme, you can watch it on dafilms.

Watch our Q&A with Abendland’s producer Lucy Ashton on the online hub.


Essential Long Watches: 

Got a lot of time on your hands? Now’s your chance to catch up on these three utterly compelling, seminal long watches.

SHOAH / Claude Lanzmann / 1985 / France / 9hr 26mins 

Caude Lanzmann’s 1985 epic is a devastating interrogation of the Holocaust using no archival footage, but instead focusing on the first-person testimony of survivors, witnesses and in some cases perpetrators.

Heralded as one of the most important cinematic works of all time, Lanzmann spent 10 years making his masterwork, to be an 'incarnation of the truth'. 

Shoah screened as part of Open City’s 2011 festival programme, followed by a Q&A with Claude Lanzmann.

Watch Shoah on the BFI Player.


HOMELAND: IRAQ YEAR ZERO / Abbas Fahdel / 2015 / 5hr 34mins 

In 2003, with war looming in his native Iraq, Abbas Fahdel returned to his homeland to document life in Baghdad during and after the invasion. Shot over the course of 2 years, Homeland is a sprawling yet intimate cinematic opus, chronicling in rich detail the realities of daily life for a family in the midst of war.

Homeland screened at DocHouse as part of Open City’s 2016 festival programme. Watch Homeland on Vimeo.

THE ACT OF KILLING / Joshua Oppenheimer & Christine Cynn / 2012 / 2hr 39mins

Disturbing, surreal and entirely engrossing, The Act of Killing made waves as much for its daring originality as for its chilling content. 

By working with the perpretrators of the 1960s Indonesian genocide to re-enact their crimes in the glamourous, hyper-real style of Hollywood movies, director Joshua Oppenheimer broke all the rules of documentary filmmaking, creating a genre-bending hybrid that is piercing on both a factual and emotional level. 

The Act of Killing screened as part of Open City’s 2013 festival programme, you can watch it on Google Play.

You can also watch a masterclass with Joshua Oppenheimer on our Online Hub.

Submissions for Open City Documentary Festival 2020 are now open! They’re looking for creative, innovative, challenging non-fiction filmmaking in short, mid-length and feature-length, as well as short audio documentaries, and cross-platform projects. Apply here.